The dictionary defines lame duck in two ways: 1) a disabled, ineffectual, or helpless person or thing 2) an elected official whose term extends beyond the time of the election at which he or she was not reelected. In many ways both definitions apply to the current legislature either on an individual bases or as collective bodies. In addition to many term-limited state representatives and senators who will serve until December 31, the Republican leadership of the House is serving in a lame duck role inasmuch as the Democrats gained control of the House beginning January 1, 2007.
So it is within the environment of a lame duck legislature that bills are being debated, passed and even new bills introduced. The window period for action is short. Both chambers soon will recess for the holidays ending this legislative term. There will be a short ceremony officially ending the session on December 29.
Efforts will be made to get bills, some of which have been dormant in committees for months, passed and sent to the Governor along with other key legislation of a highly political nature before the recess. In some instances these efforts will be met with success while in others, the torch for getting bills passed will be handed to the incoming legislators. Bills high on the agenda of the legislature for action before going home include the very controversial cable franchise bill, the Single Business Tax replacement bill, and bills dealing with welfare reform and school employee health benefits. There are other bills with less significant political impact which will be acted upon as both parties scramble to get favorite legislation passed before the end of the session.
Some of the bills awaiting the Governor’s signature or which may go to the Governor for signature and which might be of interest to seniors/retirees are outlined below:
SB 701 is a bill which has gone to the Governor for signature and which addresses the processes to be used in attempting to locate missing senior citizens. Currently, the law requires that individuals reported as missing be entered into the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) if any of the following conditions or circumstances apply: 1) documented physical or mental disability, 2) in the company of another person under circumstances indicating that his or her safety may be in danger, 3) who disappeared under circumstances indicating the disappearance was not voluntary, and 4) as the result of a natural or intentionally caused catastrophe or extraordinary accident causing loss of human life. Also, a missing child is required to be entered into the two networks described above. This bill would add to the list of individuals who are required to be reported and entered into LEIN or NCIC any individual not currently covered (as described above) who is believed incapable of returning to his or her residence without assistance. The bill requires information on such individuals be broadcast over all applicable information systems.
HB 5661 is a bill which would permit automobile insurers to offer a premium discount to individuals who are at least 50 years old and successfully complete a traffic accident prevention course that met specified criteria. Such a premium could be offered for three years after successful completion of an initial or refresher course. The initial course would have to include at least eight hours of classroom instruction taught by an instructor certified by the entity offering the course. The refresher course would have to include at least four hours of classroom instruction taught by an instructor certified by the entity offering the course. The instructing entity would have to issue a certificate of completion to be used by the person applying for the reduced premium insurance policy. The bill has gone to the Governor for signature.
HB 465 is one of several bills which would amend various acts to provide patient confidentiality regarding the maintenance and disclosure of medical records and certain health information. HB 465 would do the following: 1) require an individual licensed under the Public Health Code to keep and maintain a record for each patient, 2) require such a record to be maintained for at least seven years unless a longer period of time is required by state laws or federal regulations, 3) provide a mechanism by which a licensee or health facility or agency could dispose of patient health records in either less than seven years or records older than seven years, 3) provide for an agency to contract its patient records maintenance, 4) upon ceasing to operate or practice, the licensee must notify the Department of Community Health and the patient and transfer or destroy the records, 5) require an applicant for licensure or licensure renewal to include an affidavit concerning his/her written policy regarding records maintenance and the proper disposal or transfer of patient records if he/she ceases to practice, 6) provides a sanction of not more than a $10,000 fine if failure to comply with the above provisions was the result of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. The bill has passed both houses of the legislature and is on its way to the Governor for signature.
HB 4636 is a controversial bill which would amend Michigan’s strong consumer item pricing act as follows: expand the Act’s list of exceptions from its item pricing requirements, exclude items that are not food or nonprescription medicine from the item pricing requirements if the retailer met certain requirements for the display and availability of item pricing information, increase the number of classes of items or individual items that a retailer may choose not to price mark, establish a UPS code scanner and price verification terminal requirements for a retailer to qualify for the proposed exception for non-food and non-drug items, establish audit requirements for a retailers automatic checkout system in order for a retailer to qualify for the non-food and non-drug exceptions, prohibit a retailer from knowingly charging a price exceeding the price displayed or printed as required for the item pricing exceptions and specify civil remedies. This bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.
SB 309 is a bill to protect citizens from identity theft. It would require a state agency or business doing business in Michigan which owned or licensed computerized data that included personal identifying information to notify a Michigan resident if such information was acquired or the agency believed such information was acquired by an unauthorized person, require an agency or person doing business in Michigan that maintained computerized information to notify the information’s owner or licensee of a breach in the data’s security if such information was acquired or believed to be acquired by an unauthorized person. The agency or person required to give such notice would also have to notify the Department of the Attorney General, Department of State Police and local law enforcement. The bill includes in the list of prohibited activities in the conduct of trade or commerce the failure to give such notification and specifies remedies for a person injured by a violation of the bill. The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Committee on Banking and Financial Serviced.
HB 6600 is a bill recently introduced as the result of the recent political campaign. It would cause to be established a “Do Not Call List” to prevent citizens from receiving automated telephone calls that “play a recorded message to promote, advertise, or campaign for or against a political candidate or political issue.” It amends the Michigan Campaign Finance Act to allow citizens to opt out of receiving such unwanted messages. The Michigan Public Service Commission would be responsible for establishing rules and the mechanism for citizens to use to prevent receipt of such unwanted recorded political solicitations. This bill has been assigned to the Committee on House Oversight, Elections, and Ethics.
HB 4337 is a recently introduced bill which would, as introduced, allow a taxpayer to claim an additional state income tax exemption of $1800 if the taxpayer provides primary care for a parent who is a senior citizen and if the Department of Human Services determines that such care prevents institutionalization of that parent. The bill defines “primary care” to mean acts that meet the physical or mental requirements of a family member who cannot meet those requirements without assistance or supervision, including acts relating to health, safety, nutrition, hygiene, homemaking, or other activities of daily living. “Senior citizen” is defined as an individual who is 65 years of age or older or the un-remarried spouse of an individual who was 65 years of age or older at the time of death.
Impact of the recent election — The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives while the Republicans retained control of the Senate. As a result, the leadership of the House will change. The new Speaker of the House will be Andy Dillion of Redford Township. Steve Tobocman of Detroit will be the Majority Floor Leader and Michael Sak of Grand Rapids will be Speaker Pro Tempore. On the Republican side, Craig DeRoche of Novi will be the Minority Leader with Chris Ward of Brighton being the Minority Floor leader. Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton will be the Assistant Minority Floor leader.
In the Senate, Mike Bishop of Rochester will be the Senate Majority Leader, with Alan Cropsey of DeWitt as the Majority Floor Leader. The Assistant Majority Leader will be Michelle McManus from Lake Leelanau. Randy Richardville will be President Pro Tempore. On the Democratic side, Mark Schauer of Battle Creek will be the Minority Leader, with Buzz Thomas of Detroit serving as Minority Floor Leader and Gilda Jacobs of Huntington Woods serving as Caucus Chair.
One of the consequences of the Democrats taking control of the House is that the issue on which current Speaker Craig DeRoche was preparing to battle is no longer an issue. Mr. DeRoche was campaigning to prevent Bert Johnson, a newly elected State Representative from Detroit, from taking his seat because of a past felony criminal offense involving his participation in a robbery as a teenager. The matter became a Republican campaign issue. But now that the Democrats are in the majority and Mr.DeRoche will no longer be Speaker, Mr. Johnson will undoubtedly be seated without much fanfare.
Future petition signature requirements increase — As the result of some 3.8 million voters participating in the recent elections, the number of signatures required to get issues before the voters will increase for the 2008 and 2010 elections. The required number of signatures is based on the number of citizens voting in the past election. The number of petition signatures required for a Constitutional amendment increased from 317,757 in 2006 to 380,125. For an initiative petition the increase is from 254,106 to 304,100, while for a referendum petition the signatures will increase from 158,879 to 190,063. This obviously will make it more difficult to get issues on the ballot. The first petition signature campaign falling under the increased signature requirement is one to get the issue of legalized marijuana for medical use on the ballot. The Board of Canvassers recently approved the form of the petition submitted by an Eaton Rapids group. The group has 180 days to collect 304,100 signatures.
Prohibition against PAC deduction — The Secretary of State has ruled that schools cannot handle payroll deductions for contributions to political action committees because doing so would violate the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. Such deductions cannot be made even if the union reimburses the school district for the cost of making the payroll deductions. Ms. Land ruled that public entities cannot expend any funds for political activities. Prior to this ruling, entities had been making such deductions for their employees on behalf of political action committees.
Decision on payment for land — The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear a case involving a million dollar payment to a citizen by the state because the state and township would not grant the landowner a permit to build on a Lake Michigan site he owned because of the steepness of the land. The Ottawa Circuit Court ruled that the state must pay the land owner $11, 600 per foot of beachfront for the two 50 foot lots. The Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court ruling and the Supreme Court declined to intervene.
People in the News
Frank Blackford, thought to be the last living top official of the G. Mennen Williams administration, recently died in Arizona at the age of 88. Mr. Blackford served as State Insurance Commissioner and as a Liquor Control Commissioner during the Williams administration.
LaMar Lemmons III, an embattled state representative, was scheduled for trial in a Lansing District Court for a misdemeanor violation of the State Campaign Finance Act. On the scheduled date of the trial, he fired his attorney and the judge reluctantly gave him one week to find a new attorney and indicated the trial will take place on December 6 notwithstanding any other circumstances.
Rich Brown, a term-limited state representative from Bessemer, is rumored to be the next Clerk of the House. The position of Clerk traditionally goes to a former legislator.
Editor’s note: Alvin Whitfield is former President of the Lansing SERA Chapter and former Chairperson of the Michigan SERA Council and current Legislative Representative for both the Council and the Lansing Chapter. He may be contacted at 1241 Runaway Bay Drive, C-3, Lansing, Michigan 48917; phone 517/703-9666; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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